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Culture Shock

In Defense of Jane the Virgin

It was a couple weeks ago. I had just finished a particularly grueling two seasons of Call The Midwife (season 3, am I right??). I needed a rebound show. Just something light, something fun, something to take my mind off Nurse Jenny Lee and her cohort of baby-birthing midwives. In my emotionally vulnerable state, I stumbled across Jane the Virgin. At first it was just a fling. It meant nothing—at least that’s what I told myself. I mean, you don’t just go from the BBC to the CW. I was just having a little fun, you know? But then, I finished the first season in a matter of days. I started telling my friends about Jane the Virgin. “It isn’t like what you think it is! It’s so much better! It’s really smart, trust me.” All of the sudden, I was head over heels for this show. I didn’t plan this, but one rarely does.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching this show, here’s the rundown: Jane Villanueva lives in Miami with her mom and grandmother. She’s twenty-three and made the decision when she was young to wait until marriage to have sex (hence the title). She works at a hotel; she’s finishing up college; she has a cop boyfriend. Everything is great. UNTIL. She gets accidentally artificially inseminated. Yikes! What ensues is hilarious and dramatic and completely addicting.

Here’s the thing, Jane the Virgin is really smart. It’s based off of a Venezuelan telenovela. At first, the show is super self-deprecating about its origins. The characters watch telenovelas and remark about how preposterous the plot lines are. We’re all in on the joke. But then, slowly, before you really notice it happening, the same plot devices the characters were mocking start to happen within the show. And then by the time you’re midseason, you realize that you’re actually just watching a telenovela. The writers of Jane the Virgin have duped us all into watching a soap opera in primetime. I’d be mad if that wasn’t seriously brilliant. What makes this especially potent is the fact that the narrator never stops referencing telenovela gimmicks and he even explains what’s just about to happen, but somehow I’m still shocked! Hook, line and sinker, folks.

Another thing I love about Jane the Virgin is that most of the characters are bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish. It’s also refreshing to see a Latina woman who lives with two other Latina women head up a show. While I don’t think every episode would pass the Bechdel Test—a lot of the plot revolves around Jane debating which of the two seriously beautiful dudes hopelessly in love with her she should choose (I mean, same, right?). But a lot of the time she’s also deciding whether or not to continue her education if she has the baby, or she’s deciding if she should follow her dream of being a writer, or she’s taking care of her non-English-speaking immigrant grandmother. It’s not a beacon of feminist enlightenment, but there are some good things happening here.

As Mickey and Sylvia sang, love is strange. I didn’t anticipate being as into this show as I am. But I’m here to make a case that it’s actually a worthwhile show to binge on Netflix. Jane and I are in it for the long haul.


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